Outgifted

 

We’ve all been there. You have a friend that is close enough that you are exchanging gifts (usually at Christmas). You put thought and money into what you think is a nice gift. You buy or make them something that you think they will really like. Maybe it’s something that you’d like to receive yourself. Your friend opens it and is loving and gracious and appreciative. And then you open the gift they gave to you…and you are blown away by their thoughtfulness and the sacrifice of resources or time that they have spent on you. You are humbled and feel unworthy of their generosity. You have been outgifted.

I’m not sure why we think that this exchange needs to be equal, but in our culture it just does. Perhaps it’s because comparing is such a prevalent (and unhealthy) part of our society. Perhaps it’s because we are subconsciously keeping score with an unseen relational currency and we don’t want to put more, or leave more on the table than we need to. Whatever the reason, there seems to be unspoken social mores that gift-giving should be a level playing field among friends.

But what about when what’s given cannot be held in your hands or deposited in the bank?

I work in a nonprofit ministry organization, and we have been taking time each morning, (over the last few weeks) to look for and talk about the good in each person in our office. After each person has written their word of affirmation or admiration on a poster-sized piece of paper hung on a whiteboard, we take turns explaining what we wrote. It has been a beautiful and meaningful exercise. The point of it is to cultivate the practice of looking for the good in people as a daily discipline.

The other day, I was on the receiving end of all of this goodness. I sat and listened to people explain what they had written. Some of the people in my office I know very well, and others I have spent less time with. I was not prepared for their generosity. I was not prepared for the outpouring of love and emotion. I was not prepared for how much the things that I have done or said meant to people. Their words to me were overwhelming and extravagant. I was outgifted.

The thing about being outgifted is that it’s humbling. You are put in a position where what you have received is far greater than what you have given. My coworkers and co-laborers in ministry saw good in me that I don’t always see in myself.

I want to be extravagant with my words and selfless in my actions towards others. Looking for the good in people is really not that hard to do. It’s a habit that you can cultivate. I think it is in line with learning to look for the attributes of Christ in people. Imagine how different the world would be if we could train our first impulses to seek the good in every circumstance, encounter, and relationship.

Jesus in 2018

As I think about the Easter events, I wonder which person in the story you identify with most. Is it the disciples? Do you believe, but are you afraid to be identified with him? Afraid of what it will cost you? Or are you like the high priest Caiaphas and worried that Jesus will upset your status quo? Maybe you feel like the thief who hung next to Jesus, desperately wanting a second…or 102nd chance.

This Easter, I am wondering what it would be like if all of these events were to happen today. It takes a little bit of mental gymnastics and stretching of the story to fit it in to present day…but it is an interesting exercise.

Being confronted with things that I know I have done is hard enough, but being accused of something that I didn’t do is the worst. My knee-jerk reaction is to defend myself…loudly and boldly. To rally my friends and acquaintances to speak on my behalf. To persuasively explain the facts of the situation and use all the words I have in my head to come to some sort of reconciliation.

Jesus was accused of all kinds of things. The only one of the accusations that was true was his claim to be the Messiah. All of the other claims were false. And he stood mostly silent before the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin as they called him a criminal.

As I wrestle with my own feelings of helplessness when I am accused or misunderstood, I am looking at this part of the Easter story with new eyes. Jesus knew that he was not guilty, but he also knew that this was part of his father’s plan. There was a greater good to be accomplished at his expense. It’s hard to imagine him standing there listening to the accusations, knowing the shame that it brought on his family, knowing what punishment was ahead of him, and not saying a word.

If Jesus had lived in 2018, his story would have gone down much differently. He most likely would have had a court appointed attorney. If the attorney believed him, maybe he’d have given a passionate defense. If he didn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, he probably would argue for life in prison instead of the death penalty. There would be marches and rallies both for and against him. T shirts would be made. The news would cover every aspect of the story 24/7. He would become a trending topic on social media. And families would be divided in their support or opposition of him.

And I believe that even in this time that we live in where he could reach millions of people in 280 characters or less…Jesus would have been quiet. And honestly, that scares me a little. I’d like to think that I would have defended him in court, stayed with him through his death, and been there when he came back to life. I don’t think that Jesus would shout for us to believe him. He wouldn’t carry a protest sign or make his case on late television. But that seems to be how people get our attention in our time. Jesus quietly loved us with his actions. And we have to be quiet to not miss it.

Rushing to Easter

I really want to be one of those people who just trusts God so much that I can greet every bad thing that happens, whether it be a small bump in the road or a full on ditch, with a calm, peaceful presence. But I’m not. I am the queen of the worst case scenario. I have missed my calling in the military. There are people there who specialize in the worst case scenario. Their negative thinking is an asset in helping our troops be prepared. I like to tell myself that that is what I am doing too…being prepared. But that’s a lie. I’m worrying. And my worrying is preparing me for nothing, except maybe a headache. If you want to know what your worst case scenario is, just ask…I can give it to you in less than a minute. Thankfully (or maybe not) I have learned to keep all of my doom and gloom to myself.

I have a constant tension of knowing that God is good (Psalm 119:68, Luke 18:19, Nahum 1:7) and really trusting him with the things that matter the most to me. It’s easy for me to trust him with things that I have no perceived control over (world hunger, North Korea, natural disasters, etc.). But the people that I love, and situations or endeavors that I am invested in, I often hold them too tightly and bathe them in worry instead of prayer.

This is the time of year that the Christian church remembers and looks towards Easter. Lent is not something that I have officially observed, but I have always admired those who do. The people who give up real things that come between them and God, like social media, or alcohol, or whatever that thing is for you. (I had a friend in college who gave up potato chips for lent but still ate french fries. I’m not sure that this is what the early Christians had in mind…)

Kind of like we have fouled up Christmas, by making it overly commercial and materialistic…I think we, the church, have fouled up Easter too. We are in such a hurry to get to the resurrection that we miss out on knowing God through the quiet march of lent. We miss out on knowing him through the mockery of a trial, the brutal flogging, the barbaric crucifixion, and the 36 hours of being in the grave. Kate Bowler, Author of Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved, recently said in an interview that “…we Easter the crap out of lent”. If all we know of Jesus is the resurrection and the resurrection moments in our own lives, we are missing out on so much of the character of God. We are missing out on the clarity, simplicity, and joy that comes from really dark places when we choose to invite God in to them.

For some of us, things won’t work out in this life. We won’t get the job, or be able to have the baby, or the diagnosis we were hoping for. And that’s precisely why we have the account of the days before Jesus’ death and resurrection. If the authors of the Bible left all of those brutal details out, we would have no model for how to walk through hard times. Jesus did it with grace and mercy…loving people along the way. And although the Bible doesn’t say it, I have to think that Jesus laughed a lot. In my experience, you have to find the humor in hard times, or the weight of it all is too much to bear.

God was there with Jesus through all of it. And that’s his promise to us too, that he won’t leave us. He never says this life will be easy. Actually he says the opposite. (John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble…”) I have lived long enough to know that the hard times are the ones that I am closest to God. The hospital waiting rooms, the late night searches on my computer to understand what the Dr said, the phone call from the scene of an accident, the checking account balance that won’t pay the bills…that’s where God is the most real to me. And there is no better example of how to walk with God in hard times than Jesus in the days leading up to his death. The rest of John 16:33 says, “take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Jesus did ask God for deliverance when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39), and I have done that many times myself. And when God said no, Jesus trusted him. When God says no to me, I mount a defense and complain. The worst case scenario happened to Jesus, and he quietly trusted God and kept loving the people around him. He knew the same thing about his heavenly father that I do. God is good, and he’ll never leave. Death wasn’t the end of Jesus’ painful, remarkable, beautiful story…and death is not our worst case scenario, not knowing God is.

Time Traveler

I turn 45 today. Normally the birthdays that mark a decade are the big ones, but this year I am feeling reflective and thankful at 45. Sometimes it’s helpful to look back at where we have been in our lives as it can help inform us of where we are going next. Kind of like how we drive a route to a destination and learn things about the route each time we drive it. You learn about the traffic patterns, construction, and potential detours that can save you from wasted time or potential disaster. And likewise, the detours that can open up a whole new world that was just a street over that you had been missing out on all along.

If time travel were a thing, I might like to go back and give myself a few tips. Not necessarily to change the course, but to be a better informed traveler through life.

To my 15 year old self… do not buy the lie that you have to beautiful to be loved. God gave you outward beauty and health for a little while, but I promise you, it will fade. And the people who are most concerned with the outside will be the first people to go when times get hard. Spend more time on being beautiful on the inside. Be relentlessly kind and caring. Learn how to make other people feel good about themselves. Read more. It is ok to question all of the things that you were raised to believe. This is a necessary part of making the faith your parents taught you become your own. But don’t lie about it. Don’t try to live a double life- doing all of the church things you feel like you should be doing AND living the way you want to with your friends. Own your actions, and their consequences.

To my 25 year old self… laugh more. Forgive yourself for the things you did as a teenager, God has and you need to as well. You married young, but you picked a good man. A really good man. Good job on that. Let go of the fairy tale ideas you have about marriage. Real life is better. You had kids young too. You can do this. They turn out to be pretty great people. Laugh with them more and teach them to laugh at themselves. Make them try lots of different foods while they are young, and you try them too. Don’t be afraid to be still and quiet…cultivate it as a habit. Read more. Not just books to your kids, but read things that make you laugh and cry and see God in new ways. Say no to things. When you stay home with your kids, people will think you have endless amounts of time, you don’t. Call it intuition or maybe it’s the Holy Spirit within you, but that small voice or feeling you get about people or situations- good or bad- listen to it. It’s right.

To my 35 year old self… listen to your body. Doctors will dismiss you and tell you that things you are feeling are normal, but they don’t live inside your skin. Learn to speak up for yourself in the doctor’s office, sooner rather than later.  Also, don’t stop doing the things you love. When you stop making pots, part of you dies inside. Contributing to the family income is important and helpful, but you do not have to deny who you are in pursuit of money. That is bad for your soul. Keep advocating for your kids, you are doing a good job there. They have issues and they need your voice to help them succeed in the public school system. Also, the church or should I say the people in church, will let you down. They will disappoint you because you hold them to a different standard. Don’t do that. They are just people, like you, who will mess up and do hurtful things. Don’t hold that against God. And don’t let it keep you from getting involved. You have things to offer. Your words will help people feel not alone. They will help people feel loved and understood and heard. All of those journals you have been writing in since college are a training ground for you. Hard times are ahead of you and writing will help you sort all of your stuff out with God. You are stronger than you think you are. Keep writing.

Sincerely,

Me at 45